The gift of laughter can make all our days a little brighter
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There's an old saying I might just have made up that suggests the person who brings the spirit of laughter into a room is truly blessed.
Well, I wish they'd shared that sort of wisdom with some of the teachers I encountered along the rocky path to full enlightenment and a few colleagues, mentors and 'important' figures for whom no kind of education could prepare me beyond the classroom.
As a country lad out of the 'diminutive' stable blessed with a broad Norfolk accent and puckish sense of humour, I soon realised laughter was an essential tool in the grammar school survival kit. A would-be bully loses much of his power to intimidate while he's trying to work out how his funny-bone has been traced and treated to such an unlikely little spree.
Masters (and one mistress who taught biology) were far more difficult to catch off guard with a slice of impromptu humour, possibly aware this was no more than weak camouflage attempting to cover a blatant lack of knowledge of or interest in a certain subject.
I did earn a sort of grudging respect for inferring the capital of Belgium is B, Copernicus invented fashionable underwear, if you cross a bridge with a bike you get to the other side and the Eskimo national anthem is Freeze a Jolly Good Fellow.
Sadly, they were among the best I could offer to brighten up a dull lesson in the second half of the 1950s. I graduated to a more sophisticated level in the sixth form where a welcome spirit of levity and spontaneity encouraged natural laughter to go with such gems as 'Syntax? My father never pays it' and 'God cannot alter the past. But historians can.'
I recall chortling out loud at what was appearing on my typewriter as I tapped away one Monday morning early in my local newspaper career. A visiting notable from the council hardly known for an optimistic outlook on life threw a disdainful glance my way. I told him laughter was the best medicine. 'That may be the case, dear boy, unless you're a diabetic like me' he mused. 'Then you'll find insulin comes pretty high on the list.'
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It does you good to be trumped like that occasionally, if only to show humour can emerge from the most unlikely sources. Like a Norwich City Football Club manager notorious for unhelpful answers to perfectly reasonable questions. I didn't expect much from a chat about his playing career. Then came an unstoppable shot from a good 40 yards out:
'I used to be a half-back for Portsmouth. I tore the ticket in two and gave them half back.' Nearly as good as Tommy Docherty's'My doctor told me I should have a complete break from football. So I became manager of Wolves' or Bill Shankly's 'An atheist is a person who watches Liverpool play Everton and doesn't care who wins.'
I'm prompted towards these cheery reflections by a momentous contribution to the flood of good intentions unleased by an ever-helpful slimming industry after The Great Season of Too Much. It seems those guilty of early backsliding in excess-shedding campaigns can get back on track without much movement or discomfort.
Research (possibly by bright folk who sit down too long for their own good) suggests intense laughter can help burn off as many as 120 calories an hour. In other words, curl up on the sofa, take hearty chuckling to fresh levels as you watch or listen to a Donald Trump tirade and tell anyone who asks this is the perfect way to jog internally while remaining indoors.
Noel Coward, who had a view on most things that mattered, said he enjoyed long walks – especially when they were taken by people he didn't like. There we are, resting on a plumped-up cushion in the drawing-room waiting for Jeeves to bring afternoon tea while you savour a few more chapters by P G Wodehouse … the ideal weight-watching recipe for those of a certain class.
The rest of us may prefer something slightly more adventurous. I fancy a seat in the middle of any Norfolk thoroughfare where mobile phone users congregate regularly to conduct private business in public with a bit of hokey-cokey thrown in to keep the pigeons honest.
A fat lot of good that would do me after an hour of raucous laughter. Still, might give it a try.
• • The opinions above are those of Keith Skipper. Read more from our columnists every day in the EDP.